By Bridget McCrea
If you’re not visiting your customers on a regular basis, or at least picking up the phone to check in, then you may be missing out on a big chunk of repeat business
In Part I of this article series, we discussed the value of bringing back the personal touch in the electrical distribution field, where digital communications have all but replaced in-person and phone-based conversations that sales reps used to have with their customers.
“In the modern supply chain, the linkages need to be tighter than ever. To get there, the trust between supplier and customer must be very strong,” says Gerard Beenen, assistant professor of management at California State University, Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics. “In distribution, relationships are built on trust, which isn’t always easy to establish and nurture in a world where technology is disintermediating relationships and basically removing the personal touch from the interaction.”
The question is, how can you achieve the right balance between personal communications and 24/7, digital connections in this environment? Here are six good strategies that you can start using today to conquer that goal:
- Don’t lean too hard on technology. “The biggest way companies screw up on the communication front is by becoming overly reliant on technology,” says Beenen. “They assume that, because the technology is available for interaction and to create a platform for transactions, that it’s all they should be using.” This mindset can also push salespeople to assume that the personal relationship is less important, he notes, or that “everything will take care of itself” via the digital format of choice. All of these presumptions are false, says Beenen, who advises distributors to use phone, face-to-face, and other personal touches on a regular basis with their valued customers.”
- Pick up the phone. In today’s modern age, electronic communication has become ubiquitous in B2B sales. And while email definitely has its advantages (i.e., it’s quick, easy, and accessible anywhere), it’s also pretty easy to ignore. It’s easy to hit the unsubscribe button, to block the sender or to just delete a message without ever reading it. “In this environment, picking up the phone has become unusual,” writes Darren Page in The Phone Is NOT Dead in B2B Sales. “It is more personal and direct than an email, and thus has become special. It’s a more intimate form of communication and helps build relationships in a way that text communication simply does not. In this day and age, contacting someone with the courtesy of a personal phone call makes you stand out.”
- Augment with “media rich” technology as needed. During the early stages of any B2B relationship, Beenen advises sales reps to build trust via face-to-face interactions. Then, once the bond has been established, you can augment those interactions with media rich communications like Skype and video calls. “The more media rich, the better,” says Beenen, who also sees phone and email playing a role in the ongoing nurturing of the relationship. “Too many times people just try to jump right into technology and assume that everything can be done remotely and without much personal contact. However, research shows that when you start out face-to-face and then move to a technology-mediated exchange, the results are much better.”
- Align compensation and incentives around the “personal” touch. If an internal look at your sales operations reveals a lack of personal touch, one way to right the ship is by aligning compensation and incentives around this goal. “Think about the activities that you want your sales reps engaged in, and then use that goal as a guideline for compensation and/or incentives,” says Richard Trimber a business attorney with General Counsel PC in McLean, Va., and a former COO of both a manufacturing and distribution company. For example, he says a commission structure that supports ongoing business with existing customers (versus just finding “new” business) will encourage reps to delve more deeply into their existing accounts. That could mean dropping by at jobsites more often, picking up the phone, or setting up quarterly or annual “check ins” with existing customers. “These activities help build that emotional connection and relationship with the client,” says Trimber, “who will see that your reps are sacrificing their time and that they actually care about the relationship.”
- Give them a digital roadmap. Your customers are inundated daily with new information, new offers, new products, new applications, and a plethora of data that can leave even the most prolific electrical contractor confused and frustrated. By providing digital navigation assistance, an effective sales rep can help prospects weed through the most useful information and avoid the time-wasters. “The great news for today’s buyer is that there’s a wealth of information available to inform their decisions. The downside of so much information is information overload and decision paralysis,” writes David English in 7 Traits of Highly Successful Sales Professionals in the Digital Age.
“Even worse is the daunting task of identifying and rejecting poor or misleading information.” He says the content offered should range in style and source according to the prospects’ needs: long or short form, created in-house, by partners or other industry thought leaders, the possibilities are endless. “Heck, you can even offer competitor content from time to time if it is of value,” English suggests.
- Create an accountability process. One of the best ways to ensure customers are getting the face time that they want is by creating a system of accountability for those contacts. “Hold people accountable for forming and cultivating those relationships,” says Trimber. The challenge, he says, is that distributors rely on a number of deployed, autonomous sales reps to manage the task. One simple way to create accountability is by simply asking questions like, “Hey, what’s going on over at White’s Electrical?” or, “Why haven’t we seen any orders from White’s Electrical this month?” This will push sales reps to consider the relationships that they have with their customers (or, a lack thereof) and can help identify any gaps that need to be filled. “By asking these questions you’ll know immediately whether your reps are reaching out regularly,” says Trimber, “or if they’re dropping the ball on the personal communication front.”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
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